Come Back Seminary Mom!

I have added a new Seminary section to the website. I was looking for websites or blogs with Seminary information.

There are pretty much none.

I found a fantastic site named Seminary Class Notes and was excited! What a fantastic blog! And the handouts Seminary Mom was making were generic enough to be used for multiple applications across the church. Hooray! I started looking for contact information — couldn’t find any. Then I checked out the archives and noticed that the blog hadn’t been updated since 2006. I assumed Seminary Mom had been released. So then I went to the front page of the website and my blood started to boil.

The Smackdown

Seminary Mom was asked to shut down her website. (blink) Here’s the explanation she gives:

I have been asked to shut down my blog. I am doing so out of obedience. Here are the reasons which were shared. I feel that it is important for you to know so that it will aid you as a teacher with further light, knowledge, and understanding.

CES has a concern about the amount of blogs and materials popping up on the internet for seminary teachers. They have specifically chosen not to have a resource site full of such things, although they could easily do so–since such dynamic individuals through the years have created many fine teaching tools while in the service of CES.

But the CES administrators know that by seeking materials made by other people has the potential to dampen the Spirit you rightfully may receive. For example, Oliver Cowdery thought it a simple thing to translate the Book of Mormon. As a result of not putting forth effort, the beauty of the experience remained out of his grasp.

I’ve now received the following and want to share it with you. There is truth within these words and feel that knowing them will bless you as you seek greater communion with God in your seminary service.

“There is a price that must be paid to qualify for the Spirit’s help….[Oliver Cowdery] thought he could sit back and the Lord would just tell him what to say. He failed to put forth the required effort to qualify for the Lord’s help….Some want to run to the internet and get a quick idea; a cookie-cutter lesson idea that can be taylored to any block. They fail to put forth the required effort to qualify for the Lord’s help…there is a price of study and pondering and prayer that must be paid, even by a busy volunteer. If we provide teachers with too much material, we often hurt them more than help them. We create a welfare system. They don’t need to turn to the Lord for help, we have given them more ideas than they can incorporate…”

May the Lord bless us with willing hearts and yielding spirits, so that we can lead our classes in love and harmony.

All the best to you! And remember D&C 111:11.

Warmly,

Seminary Mom

I was astonished.

Poor Seminary Mom! Doing a kind, loving service, and then she’s shot down.

I am EXTREMELY suspicious of the message she posted. This instruction can only have come from a well-meaning, but mistaken local leader. If this “instruction” came from an actual CES employee, he/she ought to be horsewhipped.

There are several reasons I’m suspicious. I believe this is not any sort of official policy, and that Seminary Mom was unfairly singled out. I’ll lay out my reasoning here:

First: The Timing

“CES has a concern about the amount of blogs and materials popping up on the internet for seminary teachers.”

In the summer of 2006 I was still living in Utah and operating my websites like a internet-bending machine. At that time, JennySmith.net was the number one visited LDS teachings website. I was ranked in the top 3 websites searches for LDS Young Women, LDS Seminary, LDS Clipart, LDS Object Lessons, and LDS Primary, among others. In 2006, the Church’s site was so bad I was linking and promoting the better stuff at LDS.org on my menus to try to help drive more traffic there and encourage people to at least *try* to find help at LDS.org. My name was everywhere on the site. The site was so well known that people started recognizing me in public. That year I was so uncomfortable about the notoriety that I bought a new domain MormonShare.com so I could detach my name from the website.

I’m not saying all this to boast. It’s to make the point that if someone from Church headquarters had been making a concerted effort to shut down Seminary or lesson help websites, certainly I would have been contacted. I was not.

Second: A welfare system?

“If we provide teachers with too much material, we often hurt them more than help them. We create a welfare system. They don’t need to turn to the Lord for help, we have given them more ideas than they can incorporate.”

Hmmmm…. This may be the most bizarre thing in the note. More material than can be covered is provided in virtually every lesson published by the church. The church consistently provides more ideas than we need so that we can choose those things that will be effective for the group we’re teaching. Notice the multiple choices of teaching methods given in the Primary lessons, the family home evening manuals, the YW/YM resource guides, Teaching No Greater Call, etc. Church leaders of all kinds hold training meetings to exchange ideas and get direction. The instructions for the Prophets of the Church series used in RS/Priesthood lessons for the past several years actually warns teachers not to even attempt to cover all the material in the lessons!

Clearly providing teachers with “too much” material isn’t considered a problem up top. Rather, one would have to say prayerfully choosing among many inspired ideas is exactly how the Church intends for its members to plan lessons.

Third: “Taylored” Lessons

“Some want to run to the internet and get a quick idea; a cookie-cutter lesson idea that can be taylored to any block. They fail to put forth the required effort to qualify for the Lord’s help…there is a price of study and pondering and prayer that must be paid, even by a busy volunteer.”

This I agree with to an extent. There are church members who think others should do their jobs for them. I run into them all the time. :) Just check out the comments on the Primary Talks section of my website for examples.

But here’s where the reasoning is flawed: it negates the Second Article of Faith, which tells us men will be punished for their own sins. Those whiners who want me to write their Primary talks will answer for their own laziness. Not me. I instruct people to use the talks as a springboard for their child’s ideas. I hope they do.

Following Seminary Mom’s rebuker’s logic, the Church correlation committee itself is sinfully responsible for every person who uses only the lesson manual to plan a Primary lesson. Those lessons are so detailed and require so little effort to prepare that virtually no inspiration is needed to present the lesson. Even the handouts are included! By this reasoning, if a Primary teacher chooses to not seek inspiration, it’s Correlation’s fault.

Obviously this is flawed thinking. Correlation expects the same thing from Primary teachers that I expect from my users and that Seminary Mom expected her viewers to do: adapt ideas to the needs of your class through inspiration.

Can I just say it bugs me that the word tailored is misspelled? Surely any official policymaker would use a spellchecker.

Fourth: Dampening the Spirit

“But the CES administrators know that by seeking materials made by other people has the potential to dampen the Spirit you rightfully may receive.”

I know this came from Seminary Mom herself, so I’ll try to not to rip on this too hard. It’s more flawed thinking. By this logic any person who reads the scriptures has damped the spirit they may rightfully receive. After all, the scriptures were written by other people. So were your lesson manuals. And the church magazines. If we weren’t supposed to learn from each other, none of those materials would ever have been published. The only usable source of knowledge would be direct, personal communication with God.

God intends for us to teach and learn from each other. He has provided the scriptures and a wealth of written materials and people resources for us to draw on for help. Each of us is at a different level of experience. God knows this and expects us to help others. We gain wisdom both by sharing and by listening. We can learn other people without dampening the inspiration we receive.

(I will point out here, too, that helpful information need not only come from General authorities. Check out this month’s Ensign and count how many articles are simply ideas or testimonies shared by ordinary members. Many CES employed teachers are educated at BYU — again, teachers receiving information from sources “made by other people.”)

Fifth: Oliver

“For example, Oliver Cowdery thought it a simple thing to translate the Book of Mormon. As a result of not putting forth effort, the beauty of the experience remained out of his grasp.”

Poor Oliver never gets any credit. Seminary Mom’s rebuker is referring to the passage in D&C 9:7-9, where the Lord tells Oliver “you have supposed that I would give it to you, when you gave no thought save it was to ask me.” But Oliver’s experience isn’t a good example for Rebuker’s puposes. It actually makes my point. :)

In section 8, we learn that Oliver has the gift of revelation and the gift of Aaron. He’s instructed to prepare himself (v 1) and then he will ask for and receive (v 9) the ability to translate. Apparently Oliver had some success translating, but then, once it felt a little easier, he slacked up — one can assume on his preparation. Consider verse 5 of section 9: “it is because that you did not continue as you commenced, when you began to translate, that I have taken away this privilege from you.” Then the Lord patiently teaches Oliver more about how to recognize the Spirit, repeating his instruction found in section 8.

Oliver learned that preparation is necessary to receive spiritual insight. But notice that God is not blaming Himself or Joseph Smith for Oliver’s lack of spiritual understanding or preparedness. He places the responsibility squarely on Oliver’s shoulders, just as the blame for any lack of preparation by a seminary teacher lies on that teacher’s shoulders.

Sixth: Confidential Dynamos

“CES … have specifically chosen not to have a resource site full of such things, although they could easily do so–since dynamic individuals through the years have created many fine teaching tools while in the service of CES”

And why the heck aren’t they sharing them? Don’t they think that inexperienced, terrified Seminary teachers out in “the mission field” could benefit from that wisdom and experience? Does CES have such little faith in their training methods they expect Seminary teachers not to seek inspiration at all in preparing lessons if additional helps were shared?

The problem with the system of having paid/unpaid Seminary teachers is that the paid feel the need to charge money to share their experience while disdaining help from other sources, while unpaid, inexperienced teachers struggle until they get comfortable and are released. If CES did build a site with teaching aids, perhaps run through curriculum, (say a directory of Object Lessons, like one I happen to know), what a blessing it would be for teachers everywhere.

Come on now, give these teachers some credit. Seminary teachers are steadfast individuals who are doing their best to teach meaningful lessons. Of course they’ll seek inspiration.

Seminary Mom, Come Back!

I’m sorry someone made you feel guilty for your service, Seminary Mom. I wish you were still blogging! What a wealth of information could have been shared with inexperienced teachers.

It looks to me like Seminary Mom deleted her Blogspot account before she deleted her blog (thankfully), and so the blog is still up. These older blogs have a way of disappearing, though, and I’ve decided to back up much of material here so it doesn’t disappear into the internet void. Plus, I know that here, Seminary Mom’s information will be tagged so that it can be used not only by Seminary teachers, but many other teachers looking for ideas to apply in their lessons.

And yes, as with all the stuff I post here, it will be free to use.